Now, onto business: Anyone who finds themselves near me while out tasting is likely to hear the following words come from my mouth – “Are these estate grapes?”
Estate wine, if you're curious, is simple. It means just that the vin in your glass was produced from grapes grown at the vineyard where you're sipping, or at a property owned and controlled by the winery's proprietor. Granted, I use the term estate more generally than the strict Alcohol, Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau regulations, which impose a few more intricacies, like whether the grapes from the property were shipped off-site to be crafted into wine.
The essence of what I'm asking when I pose the “estate” question is this: “Am I drinking grapes from vines I can see right outside or from a nearby, winery-run vineyard?”
Why does estate matter? Well, it doesn't, really. It's simply a matter of understanding what you're sipping on. Personally, I find drinking a wine that comes from vines just outside the tasting room adds a touch of authenticity to the experience. That said, quality, well-tended wine will always be what I care most about.
More often than many industry professionals would prefer, when you're drinking a wine in Loudoun or elsewhere in Virginia, some of the grapes came from an unaffiliated farm outside the winery and quite possibly outside the state. This is no secret. People in the local wine business often harp that Virginia wineries need to get more vines in the ground. No one is to blame; the demand for Virginia wine has boomed faster than vintners can keep up with.
By no means does a wine have to be estate to be tasty, and it would be absurd to declare that you'll only drink estate wine.
The main reason I ask the estate question is to get a sense of where the winery is in terms of its development. Newer operations typically won't be able to offer patrons estate wine since their planting has only recently gotten underway. As you may know, it takes three or four years from the time first vines are planted until a vineyard will have wine-ready grapes.
A couple Loudoun wineries recently unveiled inaugural estate-grown labels, including Stone Tower Estate Winery's refreshing rosé and Greenhill Winery's delightfully-dry riesling, an elegant, well-balanced summer sipper. These two wines demonstrate a promising future for two relative newcomers in D.C.'s Wine County.
Meanwhile, long-time local vineyards -- for example, Breaux, Tarara, Willowcroft, Chrysalis -- will pride themselves on serving up several-years-old estate wines. And they should – it's something the new kids in town can't yet offer up.
Check out recent Wine Wednesdays below:
-"Wine Wednesday: Sipping for a cause in Loudoun wine country" -- May 7
-"Wine Wednesday: Local sparklers arrive just in time for warmer weather" -- April 2
-"Wine Wednesday: Record year for Loudoun wine at Governor’s Cup" -- March 5